The grand opening of Sensu and interview with John Larner.

Having been involved with opening a restaurant in the past (and knowing how chaotic it can be) I went to Sensu’s Grand Opening Friday night prepared to be forgiving of an unpolished state of existence. What I found was an inspiringly energetic crowd indulging on an ignited dance floor, an alluring atmosphere, and mostly friendly service with a side of slight failure courtesy of a downstairs bartender.

Sensu is the newest addition to downtown Indy’s bar/restaurant scene and is located at 225 South Meridian Street. Owner Jeremiah Hamman’s concept which promises to “inspire, indulge, and ignite,” infuses dining with dancing by offering a Pan Asian menu to be enjoyed in the upstairs dining room that overlooks the dance floor.

We were greeted cordially at the front door by the bouncer, who despite the crowd made sure to smile and genuinely welcome us. Inside, a sophisticated décor mainly colored with red and black replaced the multi-colored walls, and yellow happy faces of the late Have A Nice Day Café. The first floor bar sits in the same spot but has been upgraded to a wide, sleek black bar top with glass shelves. Across from the bar is the dance floor lined by a massive video wall which glowed visions of the performing DJ and crowd above some framed VIP booths.

Our first stop was the bar, and since the place was packed we understandably waited a while to get a drink. I was impressed by the female bartender’s up-beat, friendly attitude, and the shockingly inexpensive cost of my dry Bombay Sapphire martini ($6.25). Yet as I walked away and took a sip, my taste buds endured an assault of gin and Peppermint Schnapps, most likely from the usage of a previously used tumbler. A small snafu, a simple mistake, but what happened the next time I went to the bar was quite interesting.

On the other side of the same bar I again understandably waited a while to order a drink. When the bartender came back around to take my order, I offered the gentleman next to me (who had been waiting much longer than I) the option to order first. The bartender did a chopping motion with his hands, served the gentleman next to me, and then taught me a lesson by taking care of everyone else at the bar before returning to me. Lucky for us when we moved upstairs we found another bar with fast, friendly service to order our last round.

Upstairs we explored the restaurant area which was cleared except for a couple of smaller bars, an empty sushi bar, some tall marble-looking tables, and a series of tall padded booths. Full-time resident DJ John Larner started the night off and later passed the DJ booth, located in the corner of the room, over to headlining DJ Enferno (Madonna’s touring DJ). Both displayed a puppeteer-like expertise as they mixed together a variety of well-known, mainstream hits which propelled people to move and sing along.

At the end of the night, the view of Sensu seemed to be but a glimpse. There is still a story to be told of how the restaurant will fit together with the nightclub, and whether or not it can be pulled off.

In an interview with world-renowned DJ John Larner, a better idea of how Sensu plans to evolve can be visualized. According to Larner, the nightclub atmosphere is only slated to take place Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. While dining hours are in effect, Larner plans on providing a selection of over 5,000, hand-picked, hard to find music which ranges in different styles from Acid Jazz, to Drum and Bass. His goal is to add to the atmosphere rather than take away from it.

“The whole idea is that the music and energy will build as the night progresses,” said Larner. “And even though they’re not familiar with it, the music builds energy, and by the time we start mixing in the known songs, they’re ready.”

Fridays and Saturdays are expected to bring in the type of crowd Larner will have to cater to by playing more commercial music. But he plans on sticking to his twenty plus years of experience with underground dance by integrating his style with the commercial hits. Evidence of this took place Friday night when he played a Deadmau5 remix combined with a commercial song by I believe Katy Perry.

Tuesday’s agenda, however, are designed to appeal to electronic music enthusiasts and the service industry. Larner explains Service Industry Night (aka S.I.N) will provide a “looser” atmosphere with less commercial hits. Tuesday April 5, 2011 marks the beginning of S.I.N with special guest DJ Ross One from Miami. S.I.N cards will be available for all service industry employees, which will provide free admission to Tuesday night events and other special offers. In order to receive a S.I.N card all one has to do is provide proof of employment like a pay stub or business card.

“We want to make Tuesday a “Saturday” for industry people,” stated Larner.

With Sensu’s journey just beginning, it will be interesting to see all of the ideas come to fruition. And once some minor snafus are addressed, the potential for, as Larner put it, “A top-notch experience on par with clubs in Vegas and Miami,” is definitely possible.

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